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ScienceShot: Meet the Saber-Toothed Squirrel

2 November 2011 2:03 pm
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Illustration by Jorge Gonzalez/© Guillermo Rougier

Scrat, the fictional saber-toothed squirrel from the Ice Age films, may not be so fictional after all. Researchers have discovered the fossil remains of a 94-million-year-old squirrel-like critter with a long, narrow snout and a pair of curved saber-fangs that it would have likely used to pierce its insect prey. The creature, pieced together from skull fragments unearthed in Argentina and dubbed Cronopio dentiacutus, was not ancestral to us or any living mammal. Instead, researchers report online today in Nature, it belonged to an extinct group called dryolestoids, a cadre of fuzzy mammals that scurried about in the shadow of long-necked dinosaurs, as in the artist's impression above. The new discovery extends the known record of the dryolestoid mammals in South America back 60 million years from what was previously known. There were no acorns around at the time though, so Cronopio—like Scrat—would have had to do without them.

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